Working with Low-Income Cases: Lessons for the Child Support Enforcement System from Parents' Fair Share. B. Difficulty of Imposing Sanctions for Nonappearance


Instituting an action to hold noncooperating NCPs in contempt of court (or similar procedures under local rules) is a remedy theoretically available in all PFS sites, but actually applying it is difficult and time-consuming. First, the delinquent obligors who are the most appropriate candidates for this sanction are usually the ones who cannot be found. Second, invoking contempt invariably requires the involvement of judges, so that even those sites that moved more toward an administrative model (for example, Kent County) have to go to court. The IV-D agencies are usually represented by lawyers, as opposed to nonlawyer staff who normally represent the agency at hearings, and in two sites, where contempt is considered a quasi-criminal proceeding (Los Angeles and Montgomery counties), NCPs are entitled to counsel as well.

Exhibit 7

Appearance Rate of Potential PFS Referrals and Factors Affecting It

Site Appearance Rate at Reviews Point at Which Tracking Begins Factors Affecting Appearance Rate

Duval County, FL (Jacksonville)


When court dockets were reviewed and public-assistance-related cases were identified

Some problems with serving notice reported and large geographic area for county

Kent County, MI

(Grand Rapids)


When NCPs from public-assistance-related cases were scheduled for a review meeting

Many NCPs called to less formal reviews

Los Angeles County, CA (Los Angeles)

estimated 5 to 10%

When letters were sent to NCP in public-assistance-related cases within service area of a PFS service center

Less formal hearing and notice; NCPs drawn from across large urban county with all reviews held in downtown Los Angeles location; mobility of NCPs meant many addresses were outdated; short notice; notice emphasized opportunity, not sanctions; sanctions for nonappearance difficult to impose; fear among some NCPs that this was a sting operation

Mercer County, NJ (Trenton)


When the staff scheduled an NCP from a public assistance-related case for a review meeting.

Significant proportion of NCPs involved at stage of paternity establishment when fathers were more involved with children; follow-up letter by PFS program; most NCPs lived near the location of hearing; formal hearing forum and notice

Montgomery County, OH (Dayton)

Prior to prehearing home visit


When notices were sent to NCPs ordering them to appear for a review hearing

Less formal hearing and notice; short notice; lack of sanction; cases dismissed if no appearance

After prehearing home visits begun


When notices were sent to NCPs ordering them to appear for a review hearing

Similar hearing and notice, but supplementary notice was left at prehearing home visits; when home visits yielded proof NCP was given notice, then CSE staff recommended contempt proceedings for those not appearing

Shelby County, TN (Memphis)


When court dockets were reviewed and public-assistance-related cases were identified

Formal court hearing and notice; many NCPs lived in downtown area; strong threat of jail for nonappearance

NOTE: Data for Hampden County are not available because about 70 percent of referrals were from paternity hearings, which made it difficult to track potential referrals prior to the hearing.

aThis includes people called in for informal meetings.

When contempt proceedings are brought, judges will typically issue bench warrants for the NCPs’ arrest. But effecting the arrests is not always easy, since arresting officers are usually employed by agencies not under the direct control of the courts or the IV-D agency. Often the sheriff’s office is responsible for CSE arrests, but because it is also involved in a wide range of cases, child support cases are usually assigned a low priority. (Kent County is the one exception where a part of the Friend of the Court is dedicated to making arrests in domestic relations matters.) In three jurisdictions, contempt was rarely invoked in connection with PFS for slightly different reasons, all of which were related to the time-consuming and labor-intensive nature of the process. Because few PFS sites had the resources or inclination to specially target child support violators for arrest, most of those who were arrested were picked up on charges unrelated to child support, such as traffic violations.

Even when arrested, most NCPs spend little or no time in jail. In all sites, NCPs who are arrested face jail, but in five of the seven sites they can be released if they pay a specified amount, set to be within their power to pay. Sometimes, when an NCP has spent enough time in jail to convince court officials that he cannot pay the originally specified purge payment, a lower amount is negotiated. In the remaining two sites, NCPs can be sent to jail for a specified time; in Los Angeles, this is because the CSE agency institutes a criminal contempt proceeding and in Montgomery County the court often sets definite terms, although release is often negotiated once payment is made.

In most of the PFS sites, there is a low probability that NCPs who do not appear in response to a summons will get caught or that if they are caught they will spend time in jail.